What have you done for me lately?

(over) doing it for the dogs...


Hazel the golden doodle looks imperious.
 Hazel refuses to dress herself; her human has to do it.
One of my favourite t-shirts bears the slogan "devotion," with a graphic that shows two dogs in profile, gazing adoringly upwards, presumably at their human. Around here, I mostly get the 'love look' when I've got a treat bag slung over my shoulder. Sometimes I wonder who loves whom more. Not that it's a contest. 
Dedicated dog people do a lot for their dogs.  It can get a little weird; my friend Liz saw a woman kneeling beside her dog and sucking ice from the dog's paws, using her mouth, or tongue, or whatever — Liz didn't get close enough to give a detailed report.  Every winter I wrangle sensitive-soled dogs into booties, or apply paw wax;  if dogs give that pathetic, salt-burn squeak, I whip out a washcloth; and, I've dropped "TOO MUCH SALT!" signs on offending sidewalks. But no paw-sucking is performed.
Despite such a limitation, I often say I'd like to be reincarnated as one of my own dogs.  I do more for my dogs than I ever anticipated.
I deliberately never learned to sew, cook, or type when I was a teenager, because then I might end up doing those things — for other people. I did not want to be like my mother, who was so busy with domestic tasks that she often claimed to be her alter ego, "Gladys the Maid." Gladys favoured a worn terry cloth bathrobe, and if she was still in it at noon, you stayed out of her way. Mom-as-Gladys had a lot of resentment; it was especially obvious when she referred to the rest of us, accurately and under her breath, as "fucking ingrates." Or when she smashed dishwasher loads of plates to blow off steam.
A pop culture Gladys from Downton Abbey
A contemporary Gladys the Maid, Denker from Downton Abbey
No one could accuse dogs of being ingrates — usually they are the epitome of appreciativeness.  They do not get delusions of grandeur or say stuff like "You're just a stupid housewife," as my older brother once made the mistake of doing. Dogs are more expectant than entitled, wagging happily in anticipation of the next good thing.
And that may be why I do a lot of sewing and cooking on their behalf. Toys are stitched back together so they can be joyously re-torn asunder; meat and potatoes are stewed, blueberries blended; and many dishes are done, without my having the benefit of a dishwasher or the thrill of sometimes hurling plates to the floor. I also type a lot — I'm typing right now — but as the dogs usually sleep through it, it's not really for them (admittedly it's usually about them). 
Despite all this domestic and clerical labour, I outperform Gladys in only one department: laundry.  Throw rugs, dog beds, sheets, chair coverings and futon covers are all washed weekly. I'm pretty sure I'm keeping SparkleSolutions, my building's laundry contractor, in business. Also, I've noticed that bank tellers get rolls of quarters ready when they see me in line.  (While we're on the topic of laundry, a note: most leashes and collars are washable. That's a hint). 
Devotion, by Stephen Huneck, my fave t-shirt
My fave t-shirt, by Stephen Huneck.  See below for more info.
My biggest act of dog devotion, so far, involved my third dog, Foo Fighter, a shrinking violet, despite her name.  At age two, she started shying away from noisy street cleaners, and within 3 months, exposure to anything noisier than a pick up truck prompted her to curl up into a catatonic ball. Eventually she would leave the apartment only in the silent, witching hours — for Foo this meant at 4 a.m. and, on a good day, after 10pm. I gave up a lot of sleep for Foo, until a regime of pharmaceuticals, behavioural work and homeopathy (for both of us) pulled her out of Panic Land.
In fact, I'm more impressed by the things I've given up for my dogs than the things I've done. I use a SAD lamp all winter, but I have given up indoor natural light for McCracken. My windows are shuttered to prevent a glimpse of The Enemy, aka the neighbourhood dogs. Also, golden silence has been swapped for white noise, to mask the sound of encroaching canine combatants. 
Two summers ago I gave up my morning coffee for the newly adopted Notley (I am the kind of coffee addict who reminds everyone that caffeine lowers the risk of suicide).  Being uncaffeinated and semi-comatose was the only way to stay calm in the face of Notley's extreme skittishness. Now that she no longer alerts at every leaf and wad of gum, I am tanked up on the black stuff again, and in general feel more sanguine than suicidal. 
Hissy fits are also a thing of the past. I'm not talking about getting mad at the dogs, perish the thought. I'm talking about getting mad in their presence, period. I noticed that when I lost my keys and stomped around a bit, Nots and Mack Crack hid in their crates. I tried toning it down, only whispering "fuck" once or twice during my frantic search. Still, they both retreated. (What if they lived with a plate-smashing Gladys? What then?)
Now when the keys mysteriously disappear, or I have to fiddle with a temperamental appliance, I stash the dogs in the bedroom, shielding them from my (depending on your perspective) terrifying fury/ mild frustration. If the cursing in my blog posts increases, blame censorship on the home front. I'm compensating.
Given the stuff I find myself doing and not doing for the dogs,  I understand why people might feel a little Gladys-the-maid-ish.  Especially when dogs don't cooperate with endeavours  we undertake on their behalf. Recently, my friend Joel called his dog Hazel to come so he could put her collar on and proceed with the morning walk. Hazel gave him one of her obdurate looks and refused to move. So Joel tossed the collar at her and suggested, "Well, you put it on, then." 
Maybe the fact that dogs are so dependent on us — they can't dress themselves, among other things — explains why resentment is futile. And dogs definitely do more for us than we do for them. My dogs happily lick my toes, regardless of whether my feet are emerging from sweaty socks or a fragrant bath, and they don't seem to need a coffee to bolster their enthusiasm.
And yet, no reciprocal paw-sucking is performed. 
Click here for info on the wonderful artist Stephen Huneck and his Dog Mountain in Vermont.

Devotion - Giclee
Further info for caffeine addicts:
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